Lately, the public could be forgiven for thinking that there was only one Fire Service in this state (who do that other lot work for, and what was the name of that other Commissioner again?). The silence from Prudential Tower has been deafening.
Whilst PR is the Department’s job, not the Union’s, we still do our bit where we can, and more than our fair share “behind the scenes”. History shows that whenever the Union enters into the debate, the RFS dismisses everything we say as a ploy to sign up the alleged 70 000 volunteers. Of course, this is absolute rubbish: 1 we wouldn’t want to; & 2, we couldn’t anyway (it’s illegal for volunteers to join a trade union). Still, the RFS has in the past successfully deflected criticism of itself by turning the debate into a union-bashing frenzy. The Union is avoiding public comment now, in part to deny the RFS that opportunity.
The Union is now represented on the Joint Fire Services Standing Committee (JFSSC). The in-principle JFSSC agreement secured that “the two services should complement each other, not compete” was significant, and should ensure that the RFS isn’t allowed to unneccesarily duplicate appliances (such as pumpers) and equipment (such as SCBA) where the NSWFB already operates. Interim success has also been achieved in (so far) thwarting a plan to hand over up to 80 retained NSWFB’s, and even on relatively small issues, such as amending all “Report All Fires” signs to feature ONLY the NSWFB’s “000” number, not the local FCO’s.
More importantly, the JFSSC is now involved in a process whereby the service boundaries are being reassessed throughout the state. Under the original timetable set, the GSA and Central Coast boundaries were to be redrawn by 30/9/97, the Hunter and Illawarra/Shoalhaven by 31/12/97 and the rest of the state by 31/3/98. The GSA and Central Coast have been completed, and are considered to be (generally) acceptable, with few if any surprises. The Union was instrumental in saving the Manly Dam area, but was unable to achieve the long-overdue inclusion of Terrey Hills within the Sydney Fire District, nor the “rural village” of Kurnell with its major petro-chemical heavy industry! I often wonder if the original Terrey Hills VBFB ever thought – or more importantly, intended – that their volunteers would one day fight against more services for their community, or 20 unemployed people getting a job?
Despite anomalies such as Terrey Hills and Kurnell, the Union expects the boundary reassessment process to lead to major extensions of NSWFB fire districts, and the creation of new districts throughout the state. Provided, of course, that the process is applied evenly and fairly. If it isn’t, the Union will be forced to completely reassess its approach to the JFSSC, the MOU and indeed, our “relationship” with the RFS generally. At any rate, with the Hunter and Illawarra/Shoalhaven reassessments pending, we will not have long to wait.
Your Union remains committed to ensuring that the community receives the best possible fire protection, and that your long-term job security as a professional firefighter is not undermined by a service that now seems to have completely forgotten what it was originally formed for. Unlike the Department, your Union will not remain silent if the interests of the community, the NSWFB or most importantly, you the membership continue to be ignored.